Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blue Postcards

Recently, these postcards caught my eye at a local antique show for a couple of reasons.

First - they are blue!  I have never seen blue postcards like this.  They were created using the cyanotype photo process - like blueprints. This process dates from the 1840s and was popular for photographs, and hence postcards,  between 1890 and 1910. *

Second, they both have Bethlehem connections - sort of.

Consider the cows. 

Bethlehem and dairy farming go way back.  There's a quote from over 200 years ago that describes Bethlehem as being "very fruitful of pasture and having great quantities of excellent butter."  So the blue cows caught my eye.  Flipping the card over, I found that it was postmarked June 1906 and sent to Miss. E.  J. Twitchell, Slingerlands.  I believe this is Emma Josephine Twitchell daughter of noted Albany artist Asa W. Twitchell.**  The Twitchell home on New Scotland Road used to be in Slingerlands - that is Bethlehem - until it was annexed by the city of Albany in 1967.

Consider the Normanskill

What first caught my eye with this card, besides the blue, is the handwritten "Normanskill Creek."  The Normanskill is part of Bethlehem's northern border with Albany and the picture certainly looks like it could be our part of the creek.  Flipping it over, I note that it is postmarked October 1906 and was sent to Miss Iva Wilber, Delanson, NY.  As it turns out, the Normanskill does flow through Delanson - so the only connection to Bethlehem is through the waters of the Normanskill.

If you are curious, here's what the sender, C.J.L, had to say to her cousin Iva.

"Hello, Delanson.  Is this you cousin?  How is the weather?  Oh-no we didn't have any snow yet.  Did you hear about our perch on a tandem 75 miles to Colorado Springs?  We are off the perch now for a while.  Do you belong to the W.C.T.U.? Received D.S. Review today, so we keep tabs on you, see? C.J.L."

The WCTU is the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.  The D.S. Review is probably a local Delanson newspaper.


* Check out this article for lots of info about old postcards.

Read more about Asa Twitchell here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Waiting for the Spring Freshet

Are you enjoying this nice old-fashioned winter we are having?  Are you waiting for the spring freshet?  That's not a phrase we hear too much these days.  The spring freshet is the flooding that occurs when the winter's river ice starts to break up causing jams. The ice jams then block the normal flow causing flooding.

Besides the desire for springtime, I've been thinking about the freshet because of a history mystery that has been solved.

Back in July 2011 I hung up a poster at town hall with this text and the series of photos below.

What is going on, and what are those men blowing up?

These photos are a cold and wintery history mystery to contemplate on a hot summer day. They came out of a scrapbook found in the attic of a historic Van Wies Point home.  The house has been associated with the Welch and Hakes families and the activity most likely took place on the Hudson River. 

Beyond that we are left only with questions.  Here are a few I am thinking about: Who are the men in the photograph? Why are they blowing something up out on the ice of the Hudson River.  What company owns the icehouse in the photo?
What do you think? 
No. 1

No. 3
No. 4

No. 5

No. 7

No. 2

Last week I was delving into that attic box again and came across this clipping.
Mystery solved!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to find the complete article.

The date of the article is March 9, 1912.  Here are the captions which match the photo numbers above.  

No. 1—William Welch, blaster in charge, removing the dynamite from box and putting it in thawing out box. 
No.2—As the dynamite exploded. 
No 3 Thawing the dynamite with hot water. 
No.4—Ties sticks of dynamite together, inserting cap and attaching fuse wire. 
No. 5—Drawing the explosive to the scene of action. 
No. 6 Heating the water to thaw out dynamite. 
No. 7—Explosive is put in canvas bag and lowered through hole in the ice.

William Welch was a resident of Van Wies Point.  One census described him as a marine engineer. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shoes in the Wall

Last week I enjoyed a visit with a Slingerlands homeowner.  Her lovely Victorian house is right on New Scotland Road east of the underpass and was built about 1880.   During a recent renovation she found these in her dining room wall, between the lathe and plaster and the exterior of the house, underneath the window.

Concealed shoes are a fascinating find - the first ones I have heard of in Bethlehem.  You can Google all about them - but the consensus is that shoes were hidden in walls to ward against evil or for good luck.  Others have speculated that they are related to fertility (you know  - the old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do.)  The shoes are almost always very worn, often children's or women's shoes.  One article I read speculated that this was something men did and never talked about which explains the complete lack of written, historic records about the practice.  The only evidence is the shoes themselves.  The earliest shoes found go back to the 1400s in England and the practice was carried over to the states.

So you owners of historic houses, keep an eye out - you never know what you will find when you open those walls.

Here are some links in case you want to read more.